Don't Let the Botched Release of Rihanna's 'ANTI' Distract You From How Great It Is

With the sales of the album taken care of through a corporate sponsorship, Rihanna took a risk with 'ANTI'—and it paid off.

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Complex Original

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I wish the rollout for Rihanna’s eighth and highly anticipated studio album, ANTI, had not been so fucked up.

This includes the numerous singles that didn’t make the final product. The somewhat interesting but no less confusing “ANTI diaRY” that saw fans go through various rooms to uncover...hell, I still don’t know. I’m all for a proper build-up for new product, but the puzzle Rihanna’s people hoped fans would work to solve came several months after their collective sentiment amounted to, “Are you dropping this album or nah?”

Of course we cannot forget one of the album’s producers taking to Twitter to complain about ANTI’s delayed release stemming from Travi$ Scott’s disapproval of the final product.

All of this has only added unnecessary pressure on Rihanna to deliver an album that would seemingly make up for our impatience over the three years it has taken for a new complete body of work. And then, when ANTI finally did drop, it was by accident. Tidal apparently didn’t mean to make the album available on Wednesday. The “the oops, our bad, here it goes” approach to delivering ANTI has made everything feel so anticlimactic.

It’s a bit jarring to my nerves because I think it overshadows how interesting ANTI is. First, in its delivery. The most consistent hitmaker of our generation just gave her album away for free to a million people. Calling it a “gift to my navy,” Rihanna tweeted a link to ANTI that came with a code that made the album free for what’s reportedly a first-come, first-served basis. The whole thing is tied to her $25 million sponsorship deal with Samsung, and although Jay Z gave away a million copies of his last album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, to Samsung phone users, it is a bigger deal for Rihanna to do this because unlike Jay Z at the time, Rihanna is still at the commercial peak of her career.

Yeah, a lot of folks give away music for free but not anyone on Rihanna’s level. This is like Janet Jackson giving away The Velvet Rope or All for You. Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry are not giving away albums for free. Will they in the future? If they do by way of corporate sponsorship, they will perhaps, now that they’ve seen what Rihanna has managed to achieve (the RIAA has already certified ANTI platinum). It’s similar to Beyoncé dropping a surprise album. She didn’t invent the surprise album, but she proved she could pull off such a feat, and she made it safe for others to try.

As for the album itself, I think it’s her best yet. Already, I can feel numerous eyes rolling. Nonetheless, ANTI feels like an actual album. It does not have as many standout singles as her previous works, but with Samsung guaranteeing the album would bring in money, she rightfully seized the opportunity to make a project that deviated from what we’ve come to expect from her—uptempo, brash. I felt Rated R didn’t have as many standout songs, but “Rude Boy” was enough to carry it over to the next project.

On ANTI, Rihanna has two options to net a similar scenario: The latest single, “Work,” featuring Drake, and “Kiss It Better,” which I imagine will be played now until my very last breath after it is formally released.

And if she can find a decent radio edit for the DJ Mustard “Needed Me,” she’ll get a fair amount of airplay on “urban” radio, too. On that track, if this is what DJ Mustard meant by trying to push his sound in new directions, sign me up. I’ll also be referring to myself as a savage for the rest of my life. Thanks, Rih-Rih.

What else I love most about this album is how gorgeous Rihanna sounds throughout it. On “Yeah, I Said It.” On “Same Ol’ Mistakes,” the reimagined version of Tame Impala’s “New Person, Same Old Mistakes.” On “Love on the Brain.”

The exception might be “Higher,” which features Rihanna literally sounding like she took a bottle of whiskey to the head, a couple hits of the blunt, and is holding back several tears, though that seems to be its intent. I’ll be singing the shit out loud after I’m drunk. You likely will, too. Maybe she did that for us.

In response to the ANTI fanfare—including amassing over a million downloads and 14 million streams in 15 hours—Rihanna wrote, “You guys legit made me the happiest girl in the world!! I'm so grateful that you appreciate the #ANTI album! It's the most rewarding feeling.”

She should be happy. She sounds better than ever, took her sweet time to deliver the album she wanted, and managed to go platinum early through a big corporate payday. My only wish is that she won’t take three more years to deliver another album and that when it does come, her handlers will treat a major pop star with the care she and her music deserve.

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